MSU student battles through pain to win music award
Jazz studies senior Eric Smith has been playing music most of his life. He lives, breathes and composes music through MSU’s Jazz Studies Program.
Three years ago, Smith started experiencing pain while playing his main instrument, piano. After visiting with a doctor, he got the news many musicians would be terrified to receive: Smith found out that the ligaments in both of his wrists were torn.
This made Smith’s dream of becoming a musician a constant challenge of dealing with pain while doing something he loves. Last summer, Smith received surgery on one wrist and he will receive the second surgery after graduation.
“They hurt while I am playing, the pain from the surgery will last up to a year,” Smith said. “It has been tricky balancing everything but I am just grateful that the problem can be fixed and I can keep doing what I love.”
Despite the pain, Smith has had great success in music. There was no sign of pain on Smith’s face when he won first place in the 2016 Opportunity Detroit People’s Choice Award at the Detroit Music Awards in April 2016.
Smith won for his song "Hey There Miss," which received the more than 11,000 votes.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wait, I think I just missed what they said,’” Smith said. “For some reason I heard it and I wasn’t sure they said my name. That is the last thing you want is to think you won and then not. I was just there out of gratitude to be a part of it and be recognized. Then I looked at my mom’s face and was like, ‘Well OK, that is a giveaway right there.’”
Smith currently has a four song EP that was released on Oct. 23, 2015. Smith also released a music video for his song. The video featured current and former MSU students. He said MSU has provided him with the skills and the means to make opportunities happen.
“The music training that the College of Music has is incredible,” Smith said. “The professors, they really care about you and they also are professional musicians. They are not just people who are working their way through academia. They have played all over the world and still play all over the world sometimes, but they are also here most of the time to be there and to teach us.”
One of the professors who has inspired Smith to keep making steps to pursue his passion is Director of the Jazz Studies Program Rodney Whitaker.
“He is such an inspiring musician and person,” Smith said. “He has built this program to be one of the best in the country. MSU barely even had a program when he got here.”
After graduation, Smith plans to move to Los Angeles to pursue songwriting and film scoring.
Louie Leager is a graduate student who met Smith during his audition into the MSU Jazz Studies Program.
“I actually played at his audition when he auditioned for school here as a senior in high school,” Leager said. “I remember he came in with a packet full of his compositions and gave it to each of the professors and I remember thinking like, ‘Man, I have never seen anyone do this. This kid is prepared.'”
Leager was one of the musicians featured in Smith’s music video. He said it was his first time doing a music video of that scale.
Leager said being able to work with musicians like Smith has helped him succeed.
“Eric is a really thoughtful and sensitive guy, so he always is paying attention to politics and the world around him and that is reflected in his songs,” Leager said. “He is a great guy with a great spirit and all of that comes through in his music.”